1 June 2022

Britain has made great progress in the Queen’s 70-year reign – but there is no room for complacency


As the country celebrates the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, it’s worth taking stock of the remarkable changes that Britain has undergone in her seven-decade reign.

The Queen has personally played a significant role in fostering one of the most successful examples of a multi-ethnic democracy in the modern world. Britain has made considerable technological progress and continues to have an education system which commands international respect – attracting aspirational migrants from all corners of the globe. Compared to 1952, we have a more private-sector-oriented economy that better rewards entrepreneurial innovation.

While I would not like to put a dampener on proceedings, there remain serious causes for concern – and in some ways, Britain has gone backwards. In 1952, the average full-time male worker’s annual salary was around a quarter of the average property price – now it is just one-eighth. Compared to 1952, modern-day Britain spends far more on average for weddings – but has depressingly low marriage rates and relatively high rates of divorce. And with family courts suspending operations over the course of the pandemic, Britain could be on the verge of a post-Covid ‘divorce explosion’. Indeed, the Centre for Social Justice has previously referred to the UK as a ‘global leader’ when it comes to family breakdown.

The changing face of ‘the family’ is an overlooked aspect of the cost-of-living crisis. Indeed, family structure should have a bigger part in our debate on poverty. Before the crisis set in, three in ten British children were living in poverty – with this rising to one in two for children living in lone-parent households.

This is especially problematic for groups with higher levels of single-parent households. While only 6% of Indian-origin children under 15 live in a lone-parent household, this rises to 19% for their white-British peers and an astonishing 63% for their counterparts of Black Caribbean heritage.

There is no doubting that a good number of stable family units with prudent working parents are feeling the pinch – and that should be a worry for British conservatives who push the message that family stability, employment and frugality with the household budget are the best defence against financial distress.

That said, the data tells us that it is children in lone-parent households who are especially at risk to the worst effects of economic downturns – especially when it comes to poverty and social isolation. Children of unmarried couples are far more likely to see their parents break up, and the young people who end up in lone-parent homes are more likely to live in material deprivation.

Clearly, we need some short-term measures to alleviate cost-of-living pressures – that includes raising welfare assistance in line with inflation. But longer-term family-centred strategy that promotes the institution of marriage is needed to foster a more resilient post-Brexit, post-Covid society. This, blended with a business-friendly levelling-up agenda that delivers secure and well-paid jobs in relatively ‘left-behind’ communities, will help to shore up Britain’s collective socio-economic security. 

Britain is now a society that is relatively at ease with diversity, with the majority framing national identity in civic as opposed to ancestral terms. Economic openness and educational standards have attracted entrepreneurial and ambitious people that have enriched our society. But in terms of family structure and young people’s development, there is much room for improvement – not all is well. 

So, as the country celebrates Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee, there is plenty to admire over the progress Britain has made over the last 70 years – but we must guard over excessive self-congratulation and tackle the root causes of poverty and social isolation. There is no room for complacency.

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Dr Rakib Ehsan is a senior data analyst at the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ).

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.